November 28, 2001

Turner Consulting Group offers more affordable custom software using Open-Source apps

Author: JT Smith

- By Daniel P. Dern -

For Washington, D.C.-based Turner Consulting Group, Linux-based systems and Open Source applications not only reduce operating and development costs, but also let the company reduce the budget
on custom software projects.

For example, according to Dan Turner, president and founder of TCG,
"Open Source tools like MySQL or PostGres for a database application,
instead of Oracle, can save our clients tens, even hundreds, of thousands
of dollars in software costs. This helps make us competitive with the
big guys (large IT consultants)."

Founded in 1994, TCG's IT consulting services currently include
security consulting, IT software development, and telecommuting
management consulting for government and industry organizations.
Companies and government agencies TCG have done projects for include
the National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute, Sprint,
Collegetown, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and VerbLegal. TCG's
applications have also been used by organizations including the National
Science Foundation, the American Red Cross, and the U.S. Departments
of Commerce, Energy, and Transportation.

The company was
recently named by Inc. magazine
as one of
the fastest-growing privately-held companies in the United States.
Turner attributes much of his company's ability to grow to its "virtual" nature,
with staff located across the country, using the Internet to
telecommute, communicate and collaborate.

TCG is a multi-platform shop, ready to work with whatever OSes,
languages and tools a customer prefers, including Microsoft NT 4 and
Windows 2000 as well as Sun Solaris, and Linux. Internally, however,
TCG is primarily a *nix/Open Source environment.

"Before Linux, we were using Solaris," recalls Turner, "but we've been
mostly using Linux since 1994. Similarly, Perl was our first language,
although these days we're working mostly in Java, and sometimes in
ColdFusion or ASP.

"We save money internally by using Open-Source tools for development and
for internal operations like the CVS and RCS control and version systems,
and BugZilla for bug tracking," says Turner.

David Cassidy, a business consultant at TCG, adds: "We use a mix of Unix
and Linux, and we are Microsoft Certified Partners, as well as Oracle
Partners. A lot of our internal stuff is Linux, both platforms and tools,
and we gravitate to Open Source because it's a great resource.

"For our internal needs, because we're almost all in remote offices, and
the developers and servers are almost all in separate locations, Linux
makes more sense. Using and managing remote connections to a Windows box,
e.g., using Citrix, isn't easy or cheap. Linux and Unix applications
and systems can be remotely accessed and managed smoothly and more
cost-effectively. I'd estimate we save hundreds, maybe even thousands,
of dollars per box in software licensing."

Cassidy adds: "Using Linux internally is a lot cheaper, while very robust. You can
beat on it and it outperforms other systems." His experience
also corroborates Linux's reputation for reliability. "We've had
Linux servers go for weeks at a time, versus Windows machines that need
a security patch every five minutes, and constant 'care and feeding.'
Windows NT 4 was a beast compared to Windows 2000. Plus, our tech teams,
with Unix command line experience, are more comfortable with
Linux, especially for remote administration."

Giving clients a less expensive option

For TCG clients, opting for applications built on Open Source can
mean substantially less expensive projects. For example, by
using MySQL or PostGres instead of Oracle for a high-end database
system can save many thousands of dollars in software licensing fees. "The development costs on projects like these can be anywhere from $100,000 to half a million dollars, or smaller ones from ten to fifty thousand," states Turner.
"So the cost for commercial software licenses needed for the
production systems could run more than the cost of the work itself.
We present the numbers and let the customer decide."

Going with Linux-based systems also results in savings,
albeit smaller ones, either in addition to the application-level
savings, or even if a customer opts for commercial tools, adds Turner.
"You can get a system running Linux for about half the cost of what a
Windows box will cost to support the same load -- usually one to
two thousands dollars versus two to four."

"As someone trying to sell to a client, I can tell them, we have options,
using Open Source, that will be less expensive," says Cassidy.

However, savings notwithstanding, "Government agencies seem to prefer
commercial Unixes to Linux as the operating system," Cassidy notes.

One particularly important role for Open Source tools at TCG
is in prototyping, which can be done quickly and less expensively,
Cassidy points out. "For example, for one client who wanted
something quick, we built a web app on top of MySQL, and had it up
running quickly and inexpensively. It let them see results without
making a enormous investment. Then, if their IT chooses not to support
Linux, we can scale into Oracle or other alternatives."

While TCG doesn't, as a rule, make source-level changes to Open Source
tools they use, "the ability to read the source is a wonderful thing,"
states Cassidy. "Our developers appreciate having low-level access."

Like many Open Source users, TCG is a contributor as well.
"Back in 1994, we decided none of the Web applications development
environments on the market served our purpose, so we built our own,
SteelBlue, and made the source
code available," recalls Cassidy. Other tools TCG has made available
as Open Source include QuickImage,
and parts of Northstar, an Intranet application written in SteelBlue.

Open Source has become acceptable option

Cassidy says customer attitudes toward Open-Source software changing, with more people recognizing its quality. "Back in 1994, you could pick software up off the Internet, but if it wasn't packaged, it made some people nervous. We're seeing
that less so these days," Cassidy says.

"Our main driver for Open Source has been cost, but now it's also
becoming a platform on its own which can compete with other
operating systems and sets of tools," concludes Cassidy. "Linux
and Open Source are also competitive in performance, hardware support,
security, and the services they provide."

Daniel P. Dern is a freelance technology writer.
Most recently he was executive editor of His Web site


  • Linux
Click Here!